Tuxedo, North Carolina. Camp Green Cove. My happy place. Camp Green Cove shaped me into the person I am today. The people of Green Cove, and our brother camp Mondamin, are and will always be my family. There is not a doubt in my mind that I am alive because of this place and my camp family. Camp was my yearly retreat from the mean kids at school and later in life, from the voices in my head. In a world where I rarely felt safe in my own skin, there was always camp. Once a year for six glorious weeks, I was able to escape and be free. I was more than free, I was myself.
But it wasn’t just my escape. From the oldest counselor to the youngest camper, it was all of our escape. Camp was a magical place where you laughed until it hurt on a daily basis and the only tears cried were on the final days when our parents drove up to take us home. No one ever wanted to leave those special cabins in the woods. We were family.
But on Thursday, June 12, our happy place was shattered by an unexpected and tragic accident, taking the life of one of our own. The news popped up on my Facebook newsfeed. A fatal and freak accident on the shore of Lake Summit. It couldn’t be. Surely, I was reading it all wrong. A counselor, just 30-years-old with a heart of gold, taken too soon at the place he loved most in this world. I did not know Simon Everett personally, but I know his spirit. He was my family. We walked the same docks and danced the same square dance in the Mondamin gym that inevitably always reeked of little boys, onions and molded shoes. We sailed the same boats and flew down the same zip line. We sang the same campfire songs and loved the same place and every person there.
As I read more about Simon’s extraordinarily giving and energetic spirit, I can’t help but smile. There is no doubt he was the person who lit up the groggy breakfast table and perked the campers up at assembly when no one was in the mood to sing. There were always those really special and unique counselors who seemed to have endless energy. And from the sounds of it, Simon was that counselor. Anyone who loved Puff the Magic Dragon enough to yell it, is definitely THAT counselor that every camper absolutely adored.
My heart is broken. Broken for Simon’s family and friends. Broken for his campers. Broken for his fellow counselors. Broken for my former campers who were his dearest friends. But even in the wake of this horrible tragedy, I am reminded why I still call this place my home and happy place. Our camp family both past and present, have come together to show support, love and gratitude to the counselors and staff who are doing a phenomenal job helping camp and its campers in this sad hour. This is also a beautiful reminder to us all that it is okay to grieve and be joyful at once, to be brave and scared at the same time – that no two emotions are ‘incompatible.’
Mondamin’s long time Program Director and my friend, Robert Danos, said it best in a letter today:
To all of the friends and family who have sent love and prayers this way over the last few days, please know it is deeply felt and appreciated. I appreciate you understanding that I have very little time to respond to messages. My own real grief time has to wait a while…
I hear you from the “outside” and it is appreciated even while my staff I need to keep our focus on managing the 190 boys hour by hour. The strength, loyalty and support shown by our campers, staff, parents and alums has been more than I ever could have imagined – and, yes, I have of course imagined what this would be like all of my 24 years doing this job. The reality has been both more hellish and more inspiring than I was ever able to conceive. This is our first camper or counselor fatality in our 93 year history, but I believe that some day our folks from this summer will look back on this as Mondamin’s finest hour even if it was a test of what we teach that we never wanted.
Press vultures aside, the number of people who have risen to the occasion even while knowing their own campers here were hurting has been incredible. We are trying to role model for the boys that honoring someone like Simon means both being sad but also going out and enjoying every drop of the camp he loved dearly. And, yes, with me that of course includes some joking which included an imitation of him at assembly screaming “Puff the Magic Dragon” as an example of how pain and joy are not incompatible. All of us needed permission to be able to laugh again and that included me.
It warms my heart to know camp is marching on because that is what Simon would have wanted. That is what we all would want if the tables were turned. Camp is our place of serenity, joy and self-discovery. And what better place to honor someone’s memory than by continuing to live with joy and remembrance each and everyday.
It warms my heart to know camp is marching on because that is what Simon would have wanted. That is what we all would want if the tables were turned. Camp is our place of serenity, joy and self-discovery. And what better place to honor someone’s memory than by continuing to live with joy and remembrance in his beloved happy place, Camp Mondamin.
In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine, can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes, I’m gone to Carolina in my mind.
Gotta make it back home again soon, gotta make it back on home again soon,
gotta make it back to Carolina soon, can’t hang around, no babe, gotta make it back home again,
gotta make it back to Carolina soon…